We have all cringed at clickbait headlines and their cheap lure, debate rooms that were called in to prove the notions of the moderator themselves and the false sense of urgency for the sake of news coverage; we all have hated the Indian News Media in recent times.
In recent times, when we needed more and more news channels to cover farmers’ strikes for how unfair the recent farm bills have been to the majority of them, slitting their bellies with a hot knife, the record rise in new Covid-19 cases across the country, the rash of the climate change in India that has pushed the monsoons in India by months, the lack of accountability of the government for providing numbers on the migrant crisis during the lockdown (possibly the biggest humanitarian crisis that India has faced) and the doctors who have lost their lives fighting to save others’ lives and the agony of students who are or have appeared for the NEET and JEE exams.
While there are more than a few suicides that get reported every day — of a farmer who’s not being able to make ends meet, a migrant who’s on a lookout for another job, a student who has been kicked out of the education system overnight — most Indian news media channels are only concerned about one suicide, and one suicide alone.
This isn’t fair. Like many of you, my blood too is boiling, seeing the media not doing its job of putting the state of matters to the table. Instead, they are curating for us news, the basis of which is the number of clicks they get. While there are many independent journalists and a few news media houses who are doing their job and acting in good faith of the nation — and more and more people are gravitating towards them with each passing day — a majority of the population is falling to the media’s rat-trap.
What are we going to do about it? A small step towards a balanced news media ecosystem would be for us to encourage independent journalists and newsrooms that aren’t funded by a corporate, and thus, are not obliged to cater to a side. We must also encourage rural journalism platforms, for example, Gaon Connection and PARI, by contributing to them. These platforms are blowing the whistle on fake news and making sure that people around us have access to important and unbiased news. Last but not the least, we must also be mindful of our consumption of any sort of information.
In an attempt to figure out media’s biases and how it can provide a more ‘centrist’ perspective, I came across the website of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR). Based in New York, it’s a national progressive media watchdog group that challenges corporate media’s biases, spins and misinformation. The organisation works to invigorate the First Amendment of the US Constitution by advocating for greater diversity in the press and scrutinising media practices that marginalise public interest, and minority and dissenting viewpoints.
As I read about FAIR and searched on and on, I could not get find even a single source like this for a country such as India, where minority communities face the worst heat during tectonic shifts such as the lockdown, economic shifts such as demonetisation and a policy change that puts the working class in jeopardy.
The World Economic Forum reported Indian media to be the second most corrupt media in the Edelman Report, 2017. The survey showed that the faith in media was at an all-time low, and the credibility and motive of these institutions have been seriously doubted. The following were the report’s main findings:
“The emergence of social media was the main reason the hypocrisy of the media got exposed. It got exposed that the people who call themselves journalists had turned into working for money and were driven by vested interests. The majority of people have expressed displeasure over the media reports. The report said that the people expect the media to reflect the opinion and voice of the unheard. Still, people feel that they cannot trust the media content anymore as most of them have found it to be driven by vested interest and aimed to exploit the situation for gaining TRPs. The report said that overall there had been a “global implosion” in trust – a total trust deficit. A total of 28 countries were surveyed, out of which 17 countries expressed their mistrust on the media, Indian media was seen as the second most corrupt. It is not a surprise, given that Indian journalists have used silly issues and blown it out of proportion to create panic among people. Several issues have been scripted by media and presented as news and facts. These have aggravated the society, the common man. Indian media has also been building a narrative against the country by showing anti-national characters in a positive light and anti-national thought currents as the best way to think. The media would create fake issues, and start jumping over these fake stories, attempting to create an uproar in the society.”
As we move towards a world that is parting and coming together in ways more than one, the news media has a vital role to play as an enabler, and not as a storyteller weighting more on one side. While we cannot start pulling the puppet strings of the clickbait news channels as we please, we can do a few things to bring the power of public opinion and dissent back to the democracy. Start following news from both the left and right ideologies — i.e. people you agree with and people you don’t. News isn’t supposed to be juicy or agreeable; it is supposed to tell of the issues concerning the citizens of the country.